Dear Friends, In March 2000 I started the
first two Threshold Choirs, for women who are called to sing at the bedsides of
people who are dying, in coma and newborns...now there are 7 choirs in the Bay
Area with over 230 singers. And I feel guided to begin a Threshold Choir
in Santa Cruz. I invite you to come to a preliminary informational meeting
on January 20 in the late afternoon at a location to be determined to meet me
and others who are interested, to experience the kind of singing we do in the
Threshold Choir and to envision together how a choir like this would work in the
Santa Cruz Community. I am including below an article that appeared
in the SF Chronicle in August 2002 about our work and can send much more if you
are interested and need more of an idea of what we do. Please don't
hesitate to pass this information along to any other women you think might be
interested and please get in touch with me if you have questions.
Very Sincerely, Kate
Charleen Earley, special to the Chronicle
Ellen was their first client. She was 52, a
psychologist, a cellist, dying of lupus. But in her passing, her spirit
was comforted through the music of the Threshold Choir. Conceived in the
heart of Kate Munger of Inverness two years ago. the mostly all-female,
nondenominational choir has grown into eight groups -- Marin, Berkeley/Oakland,
Sonoma County, Bolinas, Danville (this choir is coed), San Francisco, Peninsula
and Placerville (El Dorado County). Their clients are newborns and the
"While the medical staff tried physical and medical
interventions to keep Ellen's body alive, we were keeping peace with her
spirit." said Munger, 52. "We were comforting her soul."
Munger teaches music at the Temba School in San
Rafael one morning a week, but the Threshold Choir is her full-time work.
The choir idea was spawned as she was helping a friend. "I sang to him for
hours. He was comatose," Munger said. "I've been singing all my life
and watching the ways the hymns were touching the elders in the community.
It was incredible." Hearing is sometimes
the sense last to go, says Munger, who noticed the tracings of a monitor at the
bedside of her good friend Bettye, had started following the tempo of their
Selections include works from Bach and Mozart, to a
number of choir-written pieces from their book of 186 songs. Genres
include contemporary to ancient sacred rounds, chants, cowboy lullabies and
songs from various cultures and traditions.
"It's all right...You can go...Your memories are
safe with us," Munger sings, demonstrating over the phone.
Each choir meets twice a month for a 2 1/2-hour
session of singing, silent meditation and witnessing to each other in
preparation for, and recovery from, singing at bedsides. Members of two or
three sing acappella for one-half hour, solely at the request of the dying,
noting musical preferences, physical and spiritual needs. "Helping someone
have a beautiful death is a simple act of charity," said Munger. "It
doesn't take millions of dollars."
It doesn't take a particular faith either since the
choir does not promote any specific religion. "We all have access to the
sacred equally, no matter the background," said Munger. "Singing is
For Sherrin Loyd of Emeryville, singing is not
about religion. "It's about spirituality. Being open-hearted, not
being dogmatic. If music speaks to someone, you don't have to talk about
beliefs." A professor of English phonetics at California State University
at Hayward, Loyd cites the lyrics of one of their most often requested songs:
"Guide me through the darkness, guide me through the light." Loyd, 56, is Quaker, and her partner, Jill Lessing,
also a choir member is Jewish. She says they sing to people to whom music
soothes. She also considers singing for the dying an honor and a
Involved in Threshold Choir since the beginning,
Margy Henderson's specialty is singing to newborns at the UCSF's pediatric
intensive care unit. "I'm good with them. I am unafraid of my own
grief and tenderness toward babies, and because I dream of babies at night,"
said Henderson of San Francisco. Henderson, 52, explains the difficulty
others have in dying. "It is so hard to die 'well.' So hard to
receive, especially from strangers," she said. "Some people get it and are
open and they just allow the sounds to wash over them till they trance.
This allows the singer to also trance, which makes the singing more vital and
A verbal, musical affirmation to "let go," is what
Munger says some clients need. I encourage them to sing with us," said
Munger. "The body has a strong physical drive to stay alive, the body
doesn't let go." She says it's an extreme compliment when a client falls
into a restful slumber while they sing.
"If no other misses you, I will. I will sense
the emptiness where once you breathed..." Munger sings again, words by
playwright and poet Steven Wayne Anderson.
Along with a six-month commitment, a good singing
voice is required. Members enjoy a monthly gathering for a time of
socializing, networking and an occasional mini-workshop with a local musician or
spiritual leader. Fees are $100 per quarter and the choir meets three
quarters a year. Munger says it takes an average of one year to learn the
repertoire. Time is also needed for some members to address and deal with
their own issues surrounding death.
Munger hardly sees this ministry to those who have
little time left as disheartening. "(When) the dying are at the end of a
long, productive, happy life, there's something profoundly not sad in this," she
said. "The choir's singing sets a more restful, meditative mood, not a
gut-wrenching one," says Loyd, who wishes to be sung at her
Ellen (the woman with lupus) was so funny," Loyd
said. "There were times when we'd laugh and laugh." The choir
believes its music extended Ellen's life for nine months; she passed away on
October 31, 2000.
Without needing validation, conversation or
explanation, Henderson says the choir's presence provides a safe place to fill
the room with loving vibrations to those who are (being) asked to release all
that is precious to them. She says people deserve some help from those who
are not afraid of death. And death, she addis, is just another "between"
state of consciousness. "Death is really not such a foreign land. We
have dreams, some people astral travel (out-of-body experience), we 'space out,'
we sleep, we laugh ourselves silly, we orgasm, we were somewhere before we were
born, and we trance in meditation," said Henderson. "Between is
dying. It is right next to being something else." Henderson is
humbled by the risk of giving. "Not just the unknown of death's result,
but the unknown about how our intention to love in this manner will be
received. How to pick songs that are helpful, who else will be in the
room, whether we are imposing. Where would you find this many women who
are open to extending themselves in this manner?"
Kate Munger is available to consult with community
groups, corporations, churches, faith groups and service organizations in and
outside the Bay Area who want to set up Threshold Choirs in their areas.
(415) 669-1413 or email kmunger@....